“How could Santa get gifts down here?!”
“Let’s wait for Sandy Lee to do her business before we open any presents,” my mom would say after seeing my pale green face. From as early as I can remember, until I was about 8 years old, I would vomit every Christmas morning. As soon as my eyes opened, around 5 am, I felt sick with excitement. I’d lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, tossing and turning, rubbing my tummy. Unfortunately, the Christmas morning rule was no waking everyone if it was still pitch black outside. So I’d wait—agonizing minute after agonizing minute. Once I heard the coffee pop with percolation, I’d spring to life and bolt toward the living room. The sparkling tree all lit up against the din of the morning light, along with all the freshly wrapped presents beneath would send my stomach into a tailspin. And so I did what I needed to do.
My Christmas morning hurls became so commonplace (and swift) that not one of my three older brothers or parents would blink an eye—or hold my hair back for that matter. As an adult, I now find this quite strange. I’d like to believe my vomiting was due to intense anticipation and overwhelming excitement. If this was the case, my parents (along with Santa) must have created some amazing Christmases. Yet, only one truly stands out.
It was Christmas morning 1980, after my holiday morning upchuck, my dad asked us to take out the trash before we opened presents. My brothers and I made eye contact, but knew better than to contest our no-nonsense father; you just didn’t do that back then. So we obeyed and stomped downstairs in our Christmas PJs in complete silence and disbelief. Why were we made to do chores on Christmas morning—the best day of the year?!
As the musty scent of the basement invaded my nostrils, and before ever reaching the freezing cold garage, we saw two awkwardly wrapped, large presents in the far corner beyond the pool table.
“You guys, look!” said my oldest brother, Mike, pointing across the room.
“Whaattttt is that?” Kenny inquired as he bumped into Mike.
“No way!” exclaimed Mark as he took hold of my hand, always the gentle brother. I said nothing, but stood in utter amazement. How could Santa get gifts down here?!
All four of us stared at the cumbersome packages and slowly circled them like a young child might observe a plateful of warm cookies with no one in the room. Forget the garbage. We were entranced. Had our parents left us downstairs for another minute, we’d have relented to the temptation to unwrap without consent—failing at some twisted sociological Christmas experiment.
“Meeerrrrrry Christmaaaas!” I hear my dad announce as I see his worn brown slippers descend the stairs before his large frame comes into view. My mom was close behind, snuggled in her striped fuzzy robe, clutching her morning coffee. Their eyes, alight with every ounce of happiness, complemented their cheshire grins.
With the nod of approval from my dad, Mike was the first to tear at the red striped wrapping paper. Mark joined in next with huge sweeping rips and pulls. My youngest brother Kenny and I never did have a chance to assist in the reveal. And there she was… an Atari game system connected to the largest television I’d ever seen (about 25 inches). There were two black stick controllers with a little orange button that caused all sorts of things to happen in various games. Our first cartridges were Asteroids and Pac-Man, two of the simplest games known to man. My brothers and I spent the rest of that Christmas in the chilly, dank basement—and I bet my parents loved every minute of the peace.
There may have been more gifts that year, but I don’t remember one of them. Truth be told, that Christmas morning cozies up within me and I’ve attempted to recreate it for my children over the years, but nothing has ever matched it. Then again, I may not know until 20 years from now.
I’ve often heard of the gift-giving rule of thumb for families: “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.” Loved the concept, but tended to ignore it thinking, that’s not much at all. But neither was the Atari game system that I’ll remember forever. It was one WANT we all wanted. Shhhh, I would have preferred the Barbie Doll Dream House with the sliding elevator and backyard pool. However, the Atari was a close second and I knew I’d have more time with my brothers playing Atari than making them become Ken to my Barbie.
We tend to want to give to our kids what we never had (or our family couldn’t afford) with the idea that we are providing them with fuller lives. When, in reality, we’re over providing for them in many cases. So much so that four thoughtful gifts each seems so little on Christmas morning. As my kids grow older (now 17 and 19), certainly the gifts under the tree diminish in quantity and size, but the cost goes up. You want a what? A One Wheeler? Google, how much does a one wheeler cost? $1,500?! What?! Um, no.
Don’t get me wrong, the Christmases spent under mountains of wrapping paper with squeals of delight were epic, but what if… what if, this Christmas, they opened four to six gifts and sank into them? Curled up with the book or magazine, took a selfie with the sweet hoodie, donned new underwear, and truly appreciated that something special they’ve had their eye on? And the rest of the day is spent baking together or watching old videos, playing games and visiting with family?
If this works for you this year, wonderful! If not, no worries. At least be grateful that you don’t have a Christmas morning puker on your hands. If you do (or have), please contact me. I’ve never met another person with the same affliction.
Note: I recommend giving your family a heads up if you plan to switch things up this year. You don’t want a mutiny on Christmas morning. Here’s a link from the Pragmatic Parent website that can be of great help. They even have a “Gift for family” option: bit.ly/3lGrEmw